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Leafs sign Vancouver draft pick to offer sheet

August 1, 1997

TORONTO (AP) _ Swedish defenseman Mattias Ohlund, an unsigned 1994 first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, signed an offer sheet with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

Ohlund signed a five-year, $10 million offer sheet with Toronto, according to his agent, Michael Barnett, which includes a $7.5 million signing bonus.

If Vancouver wants to retain Ohlund, it will have to match Toronto’s offer. Ohlund is a Group 4 free agent, which means the Canucks have the right to match any offer, but won’t receive compensation if they don’t. It also means the Canucks can’t trade Ohlund for a year if they do match the offer.

The huge signing bonus is a setback for Vancouver, which reportedly could have signed Ohlund last summer to a three-year deal worth about $2.5 million, or $850,000 per year.

``(The Leafs’ offer) was much higher than I think that player warranted,″ Canucks general manager Pat Quinn told Vancouver radio station CKNW. ``But they made a business decision and we have one facing us.″

The Canucks have until next Thursday to match the offer.

``Until Vancouver makes their decision it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the two teams involved,″ Ohlund said in a statement released by Barnett. ``The only thing that appears for sure is that I will be playing in Canada next season.″

Toronto interim GM Bill Watters, however, isn’t confident Ohlund will join his team.

``If I thought (Vancouver) wasn’t going to match, I’d really be excited,″ Watters said. ``But I think they’re going to match.″

Watters said the Leafs have been considering signing Ohlund for a long time, but thought the time was ripe after the Canucks stretched their budget by signing former New York Rangers center Mark Messier to a $20 million, three-year deal last week.

``We felt that we wanted to sign him and could pay him the kind of money that would entice him to come over here,″ Watters said.

Watters said the Leafs were willing to trade for Ohlund but the Canucks weren’t interested.

``For some of the other teams to think that they can leverage in and force a trade or whatever, it just doesn’t work,″ Quinn said.

``That’s their prerogative,″ Watters responded.

The Leafs think more of Ohlund’s potential than the Canucks.

``We’re looking at this as a franchise acquisition,″ Watters said. ``It doesn’t require a great deal of observation to realize that this guy is a franchise defenseman.″

Quinn wasn’t as high on his former draft pick.

``This year he had a so-so season and performed very well in the world championship,″ Quinn said.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ohlund was a second-team all-star at the World Championships in May.

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